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U-M researchers dispute widely held ideas about stem cells

ANN ARBOR, Mich.--- How do adult stem cells protect themselves from accumulating genetic mutations that can lead to cancer?

For more than three decades, many scientists have argued that the "immortal strand hypothesis" - which states that adult stem cells segregate their DNA in a non-random manner during cell division -- explains it. And several recent reports have presented evidence backing the idea.

But in this week's issue of the journal Nature, University of Michigan stem cell researcher Sean Morrison and his colleagues deal a mortal blow to the immortal strand, at least as far as blood-forming stem cells are concerned.

They labeled DNA in blood-forming mouse stem cells and painstakingly tracked its movement through a series of cell divisions. In the end, they found no evidence that the cells use the immortal-strand mechanism to minimize potentially harmful genetic mutations.

"This immortal strand idea has been floating around for a long time without being tested in stem cells that could be definitively identified. This paper demonstrates that it is not a general property of all stem cells," said Morrison, director of the Center for Stem Cell Biology at the U-M Life Sciences Institute.

It remains possible that stem cells in other tissues use this process.

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Engineers perfecting hydrogen-generating technology

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Researchers at Purdue University have further developed a technology that could represent a pollution-free energy source for a range of potential applications, from golf carts to submarines and cars to emergency portable generators.

The technology produces hydrogen by adding water to an alloy of aluminum and gallium. When water is added to the alloy, the aluminum splits water by attracting oxygen, liberating hydrogen in the process. The Purdue researchers are developing a method to create particles of the alloy that could be placed in a tank to react with water and produce hydrogen on demand.

The gallium is a critical component because it hinders the formation of an aluminum oxide skin normally created on aluminum's surface after bonding with oxygen, a process called oxidation. This skin usually acts as a barrier and prevents oxygen from reacting with aluminum. Reducing the skin's protective properties allows the reaction to continue until all of the aluminum is used to generate hydrogen, said Jerry Woodall, a distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue who invented the process.

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Medical College Receives $1.5 Million NIH Grant to Improve Outcomes of BMT for Leukemia Patients

The Medical College of Wisconsin has received a $1.5 million, four-year grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to continue studies designed to improve outcomes after allogeneic (donor) bone marrow transplantation (BMT).

William Drobyski, M.D., professor of medicine in neoplastic diseases and related disorders and professor of pediatrics, is lead investigator for the study.

"One of the ways that allogeneic bone marrow transplantation is able to cure patients of their leukemia is through a graft versus leukemia (GVL) effect, which is an immunological reaction of the donor's bone marrow cells against the underlying leukemia," said Dr. Drobyski. "Unfortunately, this beneficial GVL effect is typically associated with graft versus host disease (GVHD), which is the major cause of morbidity and mortality after allogeneic BMT."

In this project, Dr. Drobyski and his colleagues will examine the interrelationship between the GVL effect and GVHD. Their method involves testing several strategies designed to separate the beneficial GVL effect from the damaging effects associated with GVHD. Their hope is that pre clinical findings in these studies can someday be translated into novel transplantation approaches for treatment of leukemia.

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When is a stem cell not really a stem cell?

Working with embryonic mouse brains, a team of Johns Hopkins scientists seems to have discovered an almost-too-easy way to distinguish between “true” neural stem cells and similar, but less potent versions. Their finding, reported this week in Nature, could simplify the isolation of stem cells not only from brain but also other body tissues.

What the researchers identified is a specific protein “signal” that appears to prevent neural stem cells – the sort that might be used to rebuild a damaged nervous system – from taking their first step toward becoming neurons. “Stem cells don’t instantly convert into functional adult tissue,” says author Nicholas Gaiano, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Institute for Cell Engineering. “They undergo a stepwise maturation where they gradually shed their stem cell properties.”

The first step turns stem cells into “progenitor” cells by dictating how signals downstream of a protein called Notch, which regulates stem cells in many different tissues, are transmitted. One well known target of Notch is a protein called CBF1. To help study Notch signaling further, Gaiano and his team created genetically engineered mouse embryos that glow green when CBF1 is turned on.

To their surprise, they noticed that during brain development some of the brain cells generally thought to be neural stem cells stopped glowing, indicating that the CBF1 protein was no longer active in them. A closer look revealed that those cells that went dark were in fact no longer true neural stem cells, which can form all major brain cell types, but instead had aged into progenitor cells, which form mostly neurons.

They tested whether CBF1 was the critical switch by chemically knocking out the protein in neural stem cells. The knockout got the stem cells to rapidly convert to progenitor cells. “However, if we activated the CBF1 protein in progenitor cells we couldn’t get them to shift back into stem cells,” says Gaiano. “So whatever happens biochemically once CBF1 is turned off seems to create a one-way street.”

Another recent study, using the mouse line generated by the Gaiano group, found that CBF1 signaling may play the same role in blood stem cells, leading Gaiano to suspect that his team’s discovery might be a general “switch” distinguishing stem cells from progenitors in many different tissues.

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Photon-transistors for the supercomputers of the future

Scientist from the Niels Bohr Institute at University of Copenhagen and from Harvard University have worked out a new theory which describe how the necessary transistors for the quantum computers of the future may be created. The research has just been published in the scientific journal Nature Physics.

How to build a supercomputer

Researchers dream of quantum computers. Incredibly fast super computers which can solve such extremely complicated tasks that it will revolutionise the application possibilities. But there are some serious difficulties. One of them is the transistors, which are the systems that process the signals.

Today the signal is an electrical current. For a quantum computer the signal can be an optical one, and it works using a single photon which is the smallest component of light.

“To work, the photons have to meet and “talk”, and the photons very rarely interact together” says Anders Søndberg Sørensen who is a Quantum Physicist at the Niels Bohr Institute. He explains that light does not function like in Star Wars, where the people fight with light sabres and can cross swords with the light. That is pure fiction and can’t happen. When two rays of light meet and cross, the two lights go right through each other. That is called linear optics.

What he wants to do with the light is non-linear optics. That means that the photons in the light collide with each other and can affect each other. This is very difficult to do in practice. Photons are so small that one could never hit one with the other. Unless one can control them – and it is this Anders Sørensen has developed a theory about.

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Robotic surgery: UW doctor uses 'da Vinci' to heal

Anita Weier

Three-fourths of cancerous prostate removal surgeries at the University of Wisconsin Hospital are now performed by a robot.

The robot and its very flexible "wrists" are controlled by a surgeon, however.

The first robotic prostatectomy at UW Hospital was performed in March 2006 by urologic surgeon Dr. David Jarrard, who also performed the 200th on July 31 this year.

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Neurognostics Releases fDAD™ - Version 2.0

Includes Upgraded Workflow Software and Expanded Stimulation Paradigm Library

August 21, 2007

(Milwaukee, WI) - Neurognostics, a Milwaukee-based medical imaging company, has released Version 2.0 of its Functional Data Acquisition Device (fDAD™). This release enhances a user's ability to acquire functional MRI (fMRI) data and includes upgraded fMRI workflow software and numerous additions to Neurognostics' extensive library of ready-to-use fMRI stimulation paradigms.

fDAD™ Version 2.0 incorporates new features and improvements that add functionality to the original Version 1.0 software platform. This easy-to-use fMRI application tool accommodates a variety of functional imaging backgrounds and uses a step-by-step process to standardize the acquisition of fMRI data. Featuring the ability to incorporate an assortment of customized visual stimulation choices, Neurognostics' newly released fDAD™ easily integrates into existing MRI room environments and standardizes the process of acquiring fMRI data.

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Scientists hail ‘frozen smoke’ as material that will change world

A MIRACLE material for the 21st century could protect your home against bomb blasts, mop up oil spillages and even help man to fly to Mars.

Aerogel, one of the world’s lightest solids, can withstand a direct blast of 1kg of dynamite and protect against heat from a blowtorch at more than 1,300C.

Scientists are working to discover new applications for the substance, ranging from the next generation of tennis rackets to super-insulated space suits for a manned mission to Mars.

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Light seems to defy its own speed limit

It's a speed record that is supposed to be impossible to break. Yet two physicists are now claiming they have propelled photons faster than the speed of light. This would be in direct violation of a key tenet of Einstein's special theory of relativity that states that nothing, under any circumstance, can exceed the speed of light.

Günter Nimtz and Alfons Stahlhofen of the University of Koblenz, Germany, have been exploring a phenomenon in quantum optics called photon tunnelling, which occurs when a particle slips across an apparently uncrossable barrier. The pair say they have now tunnelled photons "instantaneously" across a barrier of various sizes, from a few millimetres up to a metre. Their conclusion is that the photons traverse the barrier much faster than the speed of light.

Full story (available after August 18, 2007 from New Scientist)


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Medical College of Wisconsin & Children’s Research Institute Establish New National Pediatric Kidney Disease Research Center With Translational Research Focus to Expedite Bench to Bedside Cures

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded $4.6 million over the next five years to the Medical College of Wisconsin to establish a Research Center of Excellence in Pediatric Nephrology at Children’s Research Institute. As one of only two such Centers in the country, it will build on current groundbreaking research programs at the College and Children’s Research Institute, expediting new and exciting treatments for thousands of children with genetic, acquired or progressive kidney disease.

“This new Center of Excellence designation will enhance our ability to implement our translational research program, where research and clinical care are fully integrated,” said Ellis D. Avner, M.D., principal investigator of the program and director of Children’s Research Institute. Dr. Avner is a professor of pediatrics, and associate dean for research at the Medical College.

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Paper battery offers future power

Flexible paper batteries could meet the energy demands of the next generation of gadgets, says a team of researchers.

They have produced a sample slightly larger than a postage stamp that can release about 2.3 volts, enough to illuminate a small light.

But the ambition is to produce reams of paper that could one day power a car.

Professor Robert Linhardt, of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, said the paper battery was a glimpse into the future of power storage.

The team behind the versatile paper, which stores energy like a conventional battery, says it can also double as a capacitor capable of releasing sudden energy bursts for high-power applications.

While a conventional battery contains a number of separate components, the paper battery integrates all of the battery components in a single structure, making it more energy efficient.

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Full-time sensors can detect bridge defects

Crack detection sensors proven on aircraft structures

LBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Networks of small, permanently mounted sensors could soon check continuously for the formation of structural defects in I-beams and other critical structural supports of bridges and highway overpasses, giving structural engineers a better chance of heading off catastrophic failures.

A Sandia National Laboratories team is developing and evaluating a family of such sensors for use on a variety of safety-critical structures. Full-time monitoring sensors already have been tested and proven by Sandia for use on aircraft structures.

Over time, the stresses on a bridge caused by traffic, weather, and construction can result in the formation of tiny cracks in the steel and concrete structures of bridges. Exposure to wind, rain, and other elements can cause corrosion that can become a structural concern as well.

Like nerve endings in a human body, permanently mounted, or in-situ sensors offer levels of vigilance and sensitivity to problems that periodic checkups cannot, says Dennis Roach, who leads the Sandia team.

Structural health monitoring (SHM) techniques, as they are called, are gaining acceptance in the commercial aviation sector as a reliable and inexpensive way to alert safety engineers to the first stages of defect formation and give them the earliest possible warning that maintenance is needed.

With sensors continually checking for the first signs of wear and tear, engineers can detect cracks sooner, do the right maintenance at the right time, and possibly prevent massive failures, he says.

Sandia is a National Nuclear Security Administration laboratory.

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Doctor's stent valve invention improves lives

Posted: Aug. 5, 2007

Somewhere above Fond du Lac, in a one-person plane, physician Kulwinder Dua had one of the best ideas of his life.

On a summer night roughly a decade ago, Dua used an airport's windsock - the tubular device that shows the direction and relative speed of the wind - to guide his plane as he landed it. Although Dua was a world away from the fluorescent lights and gurneys of the Medical College of Wisconsin, the young doctor's terminal cancer patients were on his mind.

For a few months, Dua had been considering a serious problem. Some patients with cancers of the esophagus - the muscular tube connecting the mouth to the stomach - had developed large tumors, blocking the passage of food. One option would have been to remove the tumors, but these patients had only months to live. They needed to be comfortable, not lying in bed recovering from major surgery.

To help food go down, patients were fitted with a plastic stent - a small, straw-like device - but bits of food and digestive juices invariably went back up into the stent, causing painful acid reflux and clogging the stent. The stents clogged so frequently that they had to be replaced practically every month, Dua said.

Worse still, a clogged stent could lead to dangerous complications. A blockage during sleep could cause asphyxiation and death.

"It is a very horrible way to die, not being able to eat and then drowning in your own saliva," Dua said.

Metal stents stayed open longer, but at a cost of up to $1,800, they were much more expensive than the $60 plastic stent. Moreover, a clogged metal stent would not be easily removed. Human tissue tended to grow around the metal, sealing it inside the body.

As Dua stared at the windsock, he realized the tube was wider on one end than the other, forcing air to flow in only one direction. Would it also be possible, he wondered, to modify a stent so that it allowed fluid to move in only one direction?

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Fetal tissue shows promise for ALS in study

Neurons protected in rats in UW research

Posted: Aug. 1, 2007

Sometimes the inspiration for scientific research comes from the most unexpected places.

Consider Jeff Kaufman's bedroom.

For much of the past 18 years, he has resided there, gradually losing the ability to move, speak or breathe on his own, as nearly all of his nerve cells that control movement have died off as the result of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

But the gears in the brain of the former lawyer have been turning, his ideas put into words through a novel computer device set up at his bed that allows him to communicate by grinding his teeth.

The driving force behind an annual ALS fund-raiser, Kaufman and his event have generated more than $2.3 million for research, including a University of Wisconsin-Madison study published Wednesday that could be an important development in finding new treatments for the disease.

The study, published in the journal Public Library of Science (PloS) One, found that genetically engineered fetal stem cells implanted in rats with ALS provided substantial protection for motor neurons, the nerve cells that die in ALS.

"It's clearly an important step," said Chris Henderson, co-director of the Columbia University Motor Neuron Center.

The study included techniques that have raised ethical concerns in the past - using fetal tissue to create chimeras, creatures that contain both human and animal cells. The techniques followed National Institutes of Health guidelines and were approved by the university's institutional review board.

For the study, UW-Madison researchers used a type of early human brain cell known as neural progenitor cells that were obtained from fetal tissue. The tissue came from miscarriages or aborted fetuses 10 to 15 weeks old.

The cells then were genetically engineered so that they produced a protein known as glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF). The substance is known to protect and promote the survival of certain brain cells, including motor neurons.

The engineered stem cells then were injected into one side of the spinal cords of rats with ALS.

After transplantation, the cells migrated to areas where motor neurons were dying and began pumping out GDNF, said Clive Svendsen, a UW-Madison neuroscientist and the study's senior author.

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